Q&A: how to keep 'togetherness' alive
By psychologist Angie Willcocks
Hi Angie. I have a four-month-old baby and my partner works away. We aren't married yet but have been together four or more years. My problem is I feel like we have forgotten how to communicate. We can discuss each other's days but our conversation tends not to go any deeper. Sometimes we just sit in silence in the car because we just have nothing to talk about. I feel resentful, my day is 24/7 baby and feel I dont have a lot to say anyway, so I feel I appear boring to him and causes me to not feel good enough. I know mining life is still hard for the men, but at least they have a start time and finish time, they get to go to the pub after work every night and socialise with all their workmates, drowning their pain, if any, in alcohol. So I guess I'm jealous in a way, but I am trying to better my own life and get out of the house more. But I s'pose I want to know how we can communicate better, and deeper. He calls me everynight, but other guys tell him hes crazy for doing so. But I think I run out of things to say sometimes since I'm pretty much at home all day, then I feel like I'm being robbed of quality talking time, as he is normally tired and the call ends. I resent his job which is making me resent him. So I need to accept it and improve what we have. I know it sounds like several different issues I need help with, but your help is greatly appreciated with any of them. Amy :-)
Hi Amy, thank you for your question. I'm sorry to hear that things have been a bit tricky for you lately. To me it sounds like the issues you talk about in your question have more to do with you and your partner becoming new parents than they do with your partner's work - though I'm sure him being away adds to the issue.
The issue of poor communication between couples is very, very common in the first few months after having a baby. Many couples feel as though their relationship lacks intimacy and is more distant at a time that they expected to feel more connected, not less. There are a few reasons for this, including tiredness, change in roles (from working to being at home for example) and also because most of the conversations become about practical things to do with the baby and parenting. It is also very normal for a mum who is at home with the baby 24/7 to feel resentful of their partner who comes and goes and continues their life more or less unchanged. It sounds like you are feeling a bit isolated and stuck. Even though what you are going through sounds pretty typical for a new mum, I guess you want to know what you and your partner can do about it!
I have a few tips:
1. Do you and your partner like the same sorts of books and movies? If you do it can be a great idea to read the same book (at the same time) or watch the same movie so that you have something outside of the usual to talk about. This may seem a little forced at first but once you get the hang of it, it can really add to a sense of connection when one partner is away.
2. When your partner is back, spend some quality time together doing things, not just talking. Go to the movies, go bowling, play tennis or go for a walk or bike ride. Take the emphasis off of talking as a way of communicating for a while and communicate by doing fun and different things together (by the way this will give you new things to talk about as well!)
3. Do you have a hobby or interest, either shared with your partner or one of your own? This will give you something to talk about with your partner, but equally as important, it will give you something to focus on and think about.
4. What did you and your partner talk about in the past? Can you re-establish this communication?
5. Perhaps your partner calling every night is not a great idea. Did you call each other every night in the past or is this something new? I wonder if nightly phone calls might be adding to the idea that there is nothing to talk about and may add pressure to find something to talk about. Bear in mind that couples who are at home together every night don’t usually talk in deep and meaningful ways each night of the week either! In our house my partner is out playing sport two nights a week, I work late one night and other nights you might find one of us on the computer and one of us reading, watching TV, out at a meeting or with friends. Sure we chat to each other on those nights, but it is certainly not all deep and meaningful. If you do like your partner to check in every night perhaps limit every second night to a quick check-in call only. Or maybe text messages some nights so that you feel connected and loved but don’t need to have the awkwardness of the phone calls.
6. Don’t forget to socialise as well when your partner is away. Can you enlist some family or friends to help out with occasional babysitting so you can occasionally go out with friends as well?
Amy I also just want to check in with you and ask about your mood and how you are going with being a new mum. I have talked about what you are going through as being quite normal in the postnatal period and it certainly is – however some women have a bit of extra trouble in the postnatal period because they are experiencing low mood and this can make even 'normal' issues seem difficult to overcome. You do sound a bit down on yourself (thinking that your partner thinks you are boring and that you don’t have anything interesting to say for example) so I just want to check:
Have you been feeling low or sad? Have you been experiencing any of the following symptoms?
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep (even when the baby is sleeping)
- Feeling more worried or anxious than usual
- Less interested than usual in activities you previously enjoyed
- Eating more or less than you usually would
- Unusually negative thoughts
- Feeling irritable and/ or 'edgy'
- Difficulty making decisions
- Feelings of guilt and inadequacy
- Loss of confidence and self esteem
- Thinking or feeling that people are being unusually unfriendly, unkind or unhelpful
If you have been experiencing any of these symptoms and they have persisted for more than a week I would recommend that you speak to your GP or your early childhood nurse about it. Please do email me back if you would like any more information on any of this.
By the way, a good book to read is And Baby Makes Three by John Gottman.
All the best Amy.
To read other columns written by Angie Willcocks during her six years with Mining Family Matters, please click here. And remember that we offer a free email Q&A service with our psychologists, so just click here to ask a question about relationships, parenting or your career. All advice on Mining Family Matters is for general information only and should never be regarded as a substitute for professional health services or crisis services. To talk with a trained volunteer telephone counsellor at any time of the day or night, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. To contact the info line at beyondblue: national depression initiative, phone 1300 22 4636.